| HONG KONG
HONG KONG A leader of Hong Kong's student protests called on Thursday for a respected intermediary to help arrange a trip to Beijing where the students want to make their case to China's leaders for greater democracy in their city.
Protesters, who have occupied some of Hong Kong's most economically and politically important districts for nearly six weeks, are frustrated with the city government's inability to negotiate and are hoping to send a delegation to Beijing.
"To make the conversation become a reality we need to find a 'middleman' such as Tung Chee-hwa or Rita Fan who can make the arrangements and make the trip workable," Hong Kong Federation of Students' (HKFS) leader Alex Chow told reporters.
Tung is a former Hong Kong chief executive while Fan is a former president of the city's legislative assembly and a delegate to China's largely rubber stamp parliament.
Chow said the city government was incapable of resolving the standoff over the protesters' demands for greater democracy and only Beijing could do so.
"That is why we think a visit to Beijing is needed," he said.
China has ruled the former British territory since 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
The protesters, led by a restive generation of students, are demanding fully-democratic elections for the city's next chief executive in 2017, not the vote between pre-screened candidates that Beijing has said it will allow.
Chow did not say who would be part of the students' delegation or when it might go, except to say it need not take place during this weekend's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in the Chinese capital.
Such a delegation would be highly controversial and there is no guarantee that China would allow pro-democracy activists in.
Earlier on Thursday, protesters clashed with police in the densely populated district of Mong Kok, one of three remaining demonstration sites, for the first time in more than two weeks.
Dozens of police armed with batons and shields swept into the area where hundreds of protesters were gathered and scuffles broke out after midnight.
More than 30 people wearing grinning masks of Guy Fawkes, who plotted to kill a British king in 1605 and who has become a symbol of anti-capitalist protests.
The protests drew well over 100,000 at their peak and are now concentrated in two key areas - the district of Admiralty next to government buildings and across the harbor in Mong Kok.
A handful of protesters remain in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay.
Some Hong Kong business people have called for the protests to end, saying they are undermining confidence in the free-wheeling capitalist hub.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying signaled on Tuesday that a much-anticipated plan to link the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets had been delayed as a result of the protests and urged society to pull together to restore order in the city.
Pro-democracy activists plan to march on Sunday from the heart of the city's financial center to the Chinese central government's liaison office in Hong Kong.
(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Kinling Lo and Clare Baldwin; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel)